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Monday, October 24, 2005

Bahia de los Angeles, Baja, Mexico

Rev 2

After a trip to the States in August 2005, we crossed over to Bahia de los Angeles (BLA) from San Carlos, Mexico in early September and spent four weeks there. I thought I'd summarize some of the basics for those of you who may want to visit next summer. It goes without saying that this is just a list of those places we frequented and is by no means comprehensive.

Most services are directly off the paved road running through BLA. I think of it as a north-south strip with hotels, mercados, RV parks, and houses to either side, and the beach to the east.

As we were told well in advance of our visit, "You can get just about anything you want in BLA except for cash." There are no banks or ATMs there! Your last opportunity to stock up on cash is in Santa Rosalia, or in San Carlos if you are making the crossing from there. We know of boats who paid exorbitant sums to go to a bank in Guerrero Negro, or had to leave early in the season because they were running short of cash. Do not bring anything larger than 200 peso notes, and it's even better if you can break those into smaller bills before you come. Many businesses will take U.S. dollars, and the exchange rate in 2005 was 10 pesos to one dollar.

There is no bus service. The main highway is 45 miles inland, where you may flag down a north or south bound bus.

Time Zones:
Baja California (north of about Punta Trinidad, which is north of Santa Rosalia) uses Pacific Time. Baja California Sur (south of Punta Trinidad) uses Mountain Time. And to make things really confusing, Sonora is always on Mountain Standard Time (like Arizona, they don't change to Daylight Savings). So in the summer BLA is on PDT, La Paz is on MDT, and San Carlos is on MST (which ends up being the same as PDT).

There is a large gringo population in BLA, with whom you may be able to make arrangements for things to be brought in from the States (or to send flat mail out). The land based community uses VHF channel 68 for hailing, as do the cruisers. There are no TelMex/Ladatel pay phones. Phone calls placed from Mini-Market Lizeth or Mercado Isla are about $1.00/minute to the U.S.

Dinghy Landings:
Easiest and most secure is the beach in front of Guillermo's RV Park/restaurant/mercado at the south side of the concrete launch ramp. Most convenient to the Pemex and purified water sources is the beach in front of overturned white pangas next to abandoned looking RV Park (big empty parking lot) at the north end of the strip. This is also at the foot of a road which leads up to Isla (see Mercados below) on the right.

There are several barrels under a grove of trees behind the buildings at Guillermo's.

Xitlali (aka "the yellow tienda") - Has the most stock and widest variety of dry goods and vegetables. The vegetable truck arrived late each Tuesday and we were often able to get first pick of the vegetables Tuesday night after we went out for tacos. Otherwise we'd go in Wednesday morning for first choice of the fresh things. If what's out doesn't look fresh to you, ask if they have more in the back. Located at the south end of the strip and up (west) a couple of blocks.
Casa Diaz - Not much here but friends told us they had the freshest eggs (don't forget your plastic egg container!). You can actually walk into their refrigerator to see what they have - just don't let the door close on you like I did! Located down the street towards the beach (east) from Xitlali.
Isla - Probably the second best selection of dry goods after Xitlali, they also have purified water with which you can fill your jugs, but no delivery to the beach. The internet is here and there is a small selection of inexpensive ice cream behind the counter. Located just up from the north dinghy landing, it's a two story building on the beach side of the street.
2 Pinos - We were able to bring our five gallon garrafons (10 pesos each) here to fill them with UV purified water and have them delivered to our dinghy on the nearby beach. Located across the street from Isla.

There is no wireless service in BLA. The only internet we used was at Isla and it cost us 15 pesos for half an hour. They had about six terminals and one spot for a laptop connection.

Pemex station is located on right hand side of street at north end of town, and had just opened recently. Closed for siesta from 2-4 PM, and closed for the night at 7:00 PM.

Yolanda will do it from her house for 60 pesos a load (most expensive in all of Mexico for us!). Even if you take it in early in the morning she will tell you to come back "manana en la tarde." Use the north dinghy landing and walk north towards the Pemex. Look for the Propane/Gasoline sign on the left side of the street (before you reach the Pemex) and walk up to the house behind this. The dogs are harmless.

Eating Out:
Hotel Costa del Sol - For 2x1 margaritas (grande con rocas are excellent) and breakfast (chilaquiles with hash browns for 45 pesos - what a deal!). Located north of Hotel Villa Vita; look for stone wall and steps; outdoor patio and indoor seating.
Taqueria La Carreta (aka China's - pronounced "Cheena's") - For tacos (adobada, carne asada, pescado); buy drinks at Mini-Market Lizeth next door which is owned by China's sister (beer needs to be transferred to a cup since China doesn't have a liquor license). Located on west side of street north as you walk north of Isla. Sometimes closes as early as 8:00 PM.
Palapa Reyna - For hamburgers (or tortas) and French fries. Owner speaks English very well. No liquor license, so bring your own from nearby tienda. Located on west side of street north of China's (look for surfboard sign on building).

This is a must see. Located west of the zocolo with a sign on the street pointing the way. Open from 9-12 and mid-afternoons for a couple of hours. I especially enjoyed studying their extensive and well labeled shell collection.

As for all of Mexico boats should be equipped with bug screens, especially for the no-see-ums, although these can vary greatly from place to place and season to season. In Baja there is the additional problem of bees searching for fresh water. They will make round trip visits to your boat for anything from laundry hanging out to dry, to a damp galley sponge - and they will tell their friends about this wonderful new source of water! So be prepared, especially if you are allergic. They are not typically aggressive, but most people we met were stung at least once. As with no-see-ums the bee populations will vary, and fortunately there is usually another anchorage just down the road to move to should they become a nuisance.

Because of some adverse weather we weren't able to venture as far as we'd hoped during our limited time in the BLA area. We spent five nights anchored in Puerto Don Juan with 14 other boats waiting to see what would happen with hurricane Otis (nothing), and several nights in La Gringa waiting out some north winds. We stayed two nights in the one boat anchorage between Pata and Bota islands, where the water was flat even when we saw white caps in both of the outer channels. Anchoring off the village behind the protection of the sand spit was always pleasant, and we also enjoyed our two visits to La Mona in the southern part of the bay ("SoBLA"). Due to north winds building when we tried it, we were never able to stay overnight at Las Rocas or Mitlan anchorages, but they looked like they would be interesting to explore. The anchorages of Quemado, Pescador, and Alacran on the coast south of BLA were favorite stops on our way to and from the bay. We used both the Cunningham and Williams guides extensively throughout our Sea of Cortez visit, with Charlie's Charts and the Rains guides as backups.

It may have been the great group of people we met up with during our stay, but we hated to leave Bahia de los Angeles! I hope you enjoy your time there as much as we did.

Linda and John

Saturday, October 22, 2005

First His Fishing Pole, Now This

October 22, 2005
Bahia San Francisquito

In the process of getting ready to prepare a meal of fish tacos for dinner tonight, our Corning Visions saucepan fell off one of the companionway steps. Attempting to prevent it from hitting the floor at full impact, John tried to catch it with his right foot but it had already shattered. So he now has a nice one inch cut in the ball of his foot right between his big toe and the next (index?) toe. Unfortunately it runs from the edge of the calloused ball of the foot to the tender base of the toes, making it tricky to keep closed. Took him a long time applying pressure to get it to stop bleeding. He has three butterfly bandages Super Glued to it with gauze taped over that, and we've elevated the leg. So now he just needs to keep it immobile for 24-48 hours to give it a chance to close up. Of course one trip to the bathroom and I can see blood under the gauze again already.

Oh, and I ended up having to fry the trigger fish John caught this morning. He'd already prepared the batter and I didn't want it to go to waste so I had him talk me through the basics. It turned out fine, but I swear I'd almost be a vegetarian if it wasn't for him since I don't like cooking meat (he usually cooks and I do the cleanup).

If it isn't one thing, it's another, but at least this is the perfect place to sit for a couple of days. Our friends on SolMate are moving on down the road tomorrow, so we'll catch up with them later in Santa Rosalia.

Linda (reluctant nurse) and John (always the patient)

Pole Overboard

I forgot to mention a "man overboard" drill that we had to do during our passage from Puerto Don Juan to Alacran. We were sailing along very nicely and John was bent over in the companionway futzing with the fish finder. The main sheet must have caught his rod and reel and popped it straight up enough so that it then slid right down through an opening in the pushpit (stern pulpit). It wasn't in use at the time, just stowed resting in the pushpit. He saw the pole floating for a few seconds so we immediately got the engine running and did an about face to try to find it, but the reel must have sunk it soon after it hit the surface. It was so sad because he had purchased the rod and reel at a fishing show that just happened to be running in San Diego when we visited there in April. Fortunately neither item was very expensive, but it will cost twice as much to replace the set down here. Oh, well, it's just money. Needless to say, he will be mounting a clip of some sort to secure the pole to the pushpit so this doesn't happen again.

John's out fishing as I write this. He has a backup pole, but he came home from fishing with it the other day and said he remembered why he didn't like it. It's so light that anything he catches feels like a huge fish. Not only is this a lot of work, but he would be in big trouble if he ever caught anything really sizeable on it!

We are still in San Francisquito where, other than the first windy day and night, the weather has been very mild. The water temp however, is down to 73 degrees and it was 68 degrees in the cabin this morning!

Linda and John

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Headed South

October 19, 2005
Bahia San Francisquito (BSF)
28 degrees 26 minutes N, 112 degrees 52 minutes W (about 50 miles south of BLA)

We spent two very restful nights in Puerto Don Juan, and the day before yesterday we decided to take a favorable wind to make our final getaway from BLA (Bahia de Los Angeles). It was a 10 mile run to Ensenada el Alacran where we had stopped before in September (this time all the yurts were full of vacationers!). We knew we'd need to make an o-dark-thirty departure for our run to BSF and, since Alacran has an open entrance with no major obstacles, this was a good anchorage from which to make our jump to BSF. We had a nice walk on the beach, and a swim in the ever colder water (down to 74.7 degrees there).

The reason for our 0400 departure from Alacran this morning was to catch a favorable tide for most of the 40 mile trip. We motor-sailed in light air for four hours before shutting down the engine and sailing the rest of the way. We both had to wear our fleece jackets this morning until the sun came up! The cool breeze has made hiking much nicer, but is not so great for swimming now. SolMate made the trip from BLA with us, and Slip Away, Kay II, and Ceilidh should catch up in a day or two. If not, we all have a date to rendezvous in Santa Rosalia for hot dogs!

Linda and John

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Running From Weather

October 16, 2005
Puerto Don Juan

We've been on the go for four days in a row now, and I'm pretty tired (John's napping) so this will only be long enough to let you know that after getting as far south as Bahia de las Animas yesterday, we returned to Puerto Don Juan this morning. The weather has been very unsettled and we seem to keep choosing anchorages that are only good for that day's weather - then we have to move the next day when the wind changes direction. Since PDJ is calm in all weather, we're looking forward to getting a good night's sleep tonight without the rocking and rolling we've had for the past three nights. It was a shame we had to leave Ensenada el Pescador because that's a really beautiful spot with an interesting looking reef which we didn't have time to snorkel. Maybe on the way back south again. Animas Bay is wide open to just about everything, so we'll probably give it a pass the next time.

In the meantime we've got overcast skies courtesy of the weather system affecting Southern California, but no rain yet. We'll keep our fingers crossed for a good boat wash out of it.

Linda and John

Friday, October 14, 2005

Wind, Reefs, and a Shark

October 14, 2005
Ensenada el Pescador
28 degrees 55 minutes N; 113 degrees 23 minutes W (about 10 miles south of BLA)

Well, maybe someday we'll get to eat dinner in the Las Rocas anchorage of Isla Smith, but not this summer. The first time we tried to go there was on September 22, but it was too windy and we diverted to La Gringa (that was the night of the cool missile launch from Vandenburg AFB). We tried again on September 28 and managed to stay long enough to have breakfast before being blown out, again to La Gringa. Yesterday we left the anchorage off the village of BLA determined to try it again, and this time we stayed long enough to eat our lunch before deciding the northerlies were building up again and it was too bouncy to stay there.

We thought we'd sail around the south end of the island and then up the east side to see if there was any protection there. Sometimes our depth sounder, which is also a fish finder, shows a dark band of fish above the bottom and I'm not always clear on which is the bottom and which are the fish. As we closed on the SW shore I noticed a sharp peak on the depth sounder and asked John if it was just fish. No, it was the bottom and we had to make a hard right to get back out into deeper water. Did I mention that it was very windy, making it difficult to see potential hazards in all the chop and spray? And that if I was up on the bow watching for hazards while John was steering, it was also difficult to be heard above the noise of the wind? Fortunately both of us spotted a particularly light patch of water ahead and to our left as we rounded the south end of the island and we were able to give it some additional distance. Hmmm, I think that was a reef, and yes, there's a big rock in the middle of it (well submerged underwater so all we really saw was a smudge of brown).

By this time we're motoring and I'm out on the end of the bow sprit full time looking for more bad stuff in the water. Unfortunately I wasn't thinking about John's state of mind (totally stressed out over what additional dangers might lurk ahead), so when I saw a six foot hammerhead shark visible under the surface of the water a boat length away, I yelled, "hammerhead, hammerhead, hammerhead" and pointed at it so that maybe John would get to see it too. But in all the wind and engine noise, and thinking that I'm only up there to alert him to dangers in the water, John didn't understand what I was yelling and pointing about and thought we were about to hit something, and was I pointing at a rock we were going to hit or was I showing him where to turn to avoid hitting the hard thing. Needless to say he was not happy to learn that I was only sightseeing.

Soon after this incident it became apparent that the east side of the island was no better than Las Rocas, and we turned south again. After discussing our options (Puerto Don Juan, La Gringa, La Mona, the village) we decided to take a look at a small bight on the south end of Isla La Ventana. We'd taken our dinghy around this island when we anchored between Pata and Bota and John had commented that it could give good protection from the northerlies. Since this is exactly what we needed, and it was the closest option, and we were both thinking we'd had enough for one day, we headed in towards the island.

But first, wouldn't you know it, there was a reef on the southeast side that the guidebook said we needed to avoid. So back up to the bow I went to try to see waves breaking on a submerged reef with wind waves breaking all around us and the afternoon sun in my eyes. We looked and we looked but couldn't find it, and I went back to the cockpit when we thought surely we must have cleared it by now. I think we were fussing with the sails when I happened to look out and see light green smudges under the water a couple of boat lengths away. I yelled "Rocks!" (much more effective than "hammerhead") and we turned the boat away from the reef just in time to avoid hitting it.

By this time both of us were thinking, "Can we please end this adventure now?", and shortly afterwards we dropped the anchor in 50' of water off of a notch in between two hills on the island. The wind still blasted down at us through the valley, but the water was flat and we were happy to be parked for the rest of the day.

This morning John went out and caught a yellow tail for our dinner tonight, and then had another wild ride here to Pescador. The wind came up early again from the north with an opposing tide, and the Sea was like a washing machine. Wouldn't have been so bad except that we were foolishly towing our dinghy which threatened to go under the stern of Nakia before John moved it over the port side so we could jibe in to the anchorage. Hard to believe that we're supposed to get southerlies Sunday, in which case we'll have to move on. And yes, this time we'll put the dinghy up on deck first!

Linda and John

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

No Comment

Just a quick note to let everyone know that we've disabled the comments feature of our blog site. We were beginning to attract spammers, and the hope is that this will make them go away. We'll try turning it back on in another month or so.

Linda and John

Sunday, October 09, 2005


(Note: a lot of this stuff happened before Otis. I'm a little behind on blogging.)

We spent a couple days of days anchored off a vacation village at the southern end of Bahia de Los Angeles known by the local yachties as SoBLA. One of the boats which spends time in this area during the summer has a little place there (a micro trailer with an attached porch and small storage unit). They invited us all ashore for a game of dart. Yes, 'dart', singular. They have a dart board hanging off the porch roof but over the years all but one dart has been lost. So we took turns throwing it at the board until Lance saved us all by announcing that he'd brought his set of darts. Fun as it was, 'dart' was a little boring. Darts was far more entertaining.

After leaving SoBLA we were fortunate to get to spend a couple of nights in a little hole between two small islands. Pata and Bota (foot and boot) are about 100 yards from one another and the gap forms a 1/4 mile long anchorage aligned almost exactly east and west. This seems really nice until you know that sometimes the wind blows very hard from the west at night. The forecast was good so we decided to risk it. It turned out to be everything we were looking forward to, isolated and a little wild. We had all sorts of wildlife to watch including sea turtles, osprey, sea lions, and several birds we hadn't seen in a long time like a kingfisher. The fishing was excellent - in one morning I caught 5 yellow tail, 4 sierra, a dozen barracuda and a few trigger (I kept two yellow tail). After two nights we figured we had just about used up our luck in this risky spot so we decided to go up to a place called 'Las Rocas' where we planned on meeting up with friends.

The next morning the forecast was for light northerly winds, and while the anchorage at Las Rocas is not the best in north wind it should have been fine. If the forecast was accurate that is. We're getting the idea now that we can't really rely on any forecast in the Sea of Cortez. Anyway we started out in light north winds and by the time we got the anchor down in Las Rocas it was blowing 15-18 out of the NW. THe anchorage wasn't bad, so we settled down to have breakfast. 45 minutes later, the wind was blowing 25 with much higher gusts and it was clear we were going to have to move. Getting up the anchor in gusts over 30 was pretty exciting, but we did it and got out in the channel where the waves were pretty big and nasty. Luckily, we only had to go three miles to get to our backup anchorage (La Gringa), so we only had to put up with the rough water for 45 minutes or so.

We stayed at La Gringa, hanging out with Stan and MJ, until the whole Otis scare started up. You know the saga of that.

John and Linda

Monday, October 03, 2005

Otis Has Left the Building

8:00 AM PDT October 3, 2005
Puerto Don Juan

Unbeknownst to the other we each wrote updates so here are both of them.

Linda writes:
It's looking like Otis is going to be a non-event for us, and now we're hoping to at least get a boat wash out of it. Yesterday was completely clear with a nice breeze of 15-18, and we even had our sun shade up all day. Since we already had everything stripped or lashed down above decks we spent the day reading and visiting with other boats. Three of the divers checked anchors, and everything looked good (though inexplicably one boat dragged later in the day and had to re-anchor). Last night was completely calm and clear. We woke up this morning to about 90% cloud cover and still very calm. Puerto Escondido, El Burro Cove, and Punta Chivata are reporting rain and squalls, so hopefully a little of that will come our way soon.

We're all looking forward to holding our post Otis beach potluck as soon as possible so we can get out of here and get cruising again!

John writes:
Well it's starting to look like we got all prepared for nothing, which is exactly how we want it. As if to underscore the unpredictability of tropical cyclones Otis didn't do anything the forecasters said and is dying a quick painless death and is now headed up the outside of the Baja. At one time packing winds over 125 mph Otis has backed down to 40 mph and is expected to get down to 28 mph by tomorrow morning.

This morning we have a lot of overcast and a little rain, which except for the humidity is welcome. Today's projects include wiping dirt and salt off the boat with rain water, slowly reassembling the boat, and planning the wake/potluck for Otis.

John and Linda

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Ready and waiting?

7:00 AM PDT October 2, 2005
Puerto Don Juan (PDJ)

While John's running the Amigo net this morning I'll take a moment to update our Otis status. Yesterday morning after the radio nets (Sonrisa and Amigo) we moved to PDJ from La Gringa, in NoBLA (northern Bahia de Los Angeles). We had removed the staysail after our crossing from San Carlos since we don't need it for the coastal day trips, and we make a habit of removing our headsail from the furler to prevent UV damage. So the only remaining sail to take off the boom was the main, which we did while motoring to PDJ since it was calm. Most of the boats here have removed their head sails and lashed their mains, but our sail cover is cut so big that it's more effective (and not that difficult) for us to just completely remove it. Yes, this leaves us without backup in case the engine fails, but we wouldn't be able to sail upwind under mail alone anyway. And if the wind is that strong, we should be able to move in any other direction under bare poles. That's the theory and we're hoping we don't have to test it.

There are currently 14 boats in the anchorage with #15 due to arrive later this morning. This is a very low number compared to past years when there have been anywhere from 25-30 boats in this hurricane hole. Hard to imagine trying to fit half again our number in here because it's not that big, and everyone has 225-300' of anchor chain out! But we're pretty well spaced out, and today some of the people who SCUBA dive are going to check the set of our anchors.

This morning is calm and mostly clear with high humidity (our decks were wet this morning). It's sounding as if Otis is diminishing somewhat which is good news to all of us. This morning's report has the wind arriving here tomorrow morning at 35-55 knots. We'll try to make regular updates, but keep in mind that we may be very busy once the storm arrives!

Linda and John

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Waiting for Otis

2 PM PDT October 1, 2005
Puerto Don Juan, Bahia de Los Angeles
28 degrees 56.631' North; 113 degrees 27.132' West

As some of you already know we're preparing for hurricane Otis to make landfall somewhere along the Baja Pacific coast soon. No one really knows where it's going to land or what it will do after that so it's a bit of a waste of time trying to second guess it. We are proceeding under the assumption that it will hit us and hit us hard. Will try to keep everyone updated as best we can!

Linda and John